Artists: Daniel Molloy
27 High Street, Haverhill, UK
What year did you start tattooing?
I started my apprenticeship at 15, but I didn’t do my first tattoo until I was 19. My first apprenticeship was at a predatory street shop that used to advertise in the newspaper in my town. They would take mass interviews every few weeks and hire apprentices in bulk, up to 9 or 10 at a time, then use them for free labor. The owners and a few tattooers would treat the new recruits like animals, being degrading and cruel, so people generally didn’t last longer than a few weeks. I ended up working there for two-and-a-half years, and in the time I was working there over 50 artists and apprentices quit or were fired.
What made you want to get into tattooing at such a young age?
I was a rebellious teenager and I was originally just excited about the concept of being able to create art for a living. Putting the middle finger up at the rest of society. I dropped out of school to pursue tattooing as a career. Tattooing for a living seemed like a completely novel idea as a 15-year-old kid, but I think that tattooing is an incredible and misrepresented medium, and as soon as I started to learn about the history and culture surrounding the tattoo industry I was totally hooked. That enthusiasm gave me the drive to make it through the harder months of my apprenticeship.
What was your first shop experience like?
I was homeless at the time and worked six days a week at the shop, couch surfed at night, and shoplifted for food. I was too young to be eligible for welfare assistance, but on the days the shop was closed I worked at a fast food restaurant for pocket change to get by. I did three tattoos on myself towards the end of working at that shop, and eventually I was told I was allowed to do a tattoo on a friend, but on the day I was meant to do the tattoo my boss changed her mind. She made me work out the front while another apprentice tattooed my design on my friend. I took the train an hour-and-a-half each way to get to that shop, and I usually couldn’t afford to buy train tickets. I managed to work up a $7000 debt in unpaid train fines, among other things, and they started sending letters to my estranged parents threatening to take me to court. Eventually I broke a tooth and started to suffer from relentless daily toothaches, and I couldn’t even scrape together enough money to get it pulled out. I ended up quitting, intending to go on a hiatus for just enough time to sort out my debts and get my health back under control. I started over fresh at a new shop and I went through what most tattooers would call a traditional apprenticeship. I made needles, learned the basics of building and tuning machines, cleaned and scrubbed floors, cleaned cars, and ran the desk. My mentor was hard but fair, I still wasn’t paid a wage but he made sure I ate and had someplace to stay and my debts were under control. About a year-and-a-half into my second apprenticeship I started tattooing.
You’ve recently moved from Australia to Suffolk, why did you decide to make the move?
The last year and a half I was in Australia I was working at a shop called WA Ink with some of the best and most inspiring artists I’ve met, and I learned a lot. I would consider that group of people to be some of my best friends, but my wife and I are still young, we have itchy feet, and I still have a lot to learn about tattooing. My friend Mike Stockings offered me a permanent spot at his shop in Haverhill, and we loved the town and loved the people at the shop, so we decided to make the move!
You are known for your stylized portraits, how did you come to develop this style?
I was mostly afraid of doing weak color portraits on my clients that wouldn’t age well, so I tended to overcompensate with the lines and black shading. My portrait style has become a bit more subtle as it has developed, but I still try and make sure every tattoo I do is strong enough to stand the test of time.
Is there a tattoo that you haven’t done yet that you are dying to do?
Now that I’m settled in the UK I’m looking forward to starting some larger scale pieces.